Way back at the beginning of March, I wrote about the importance of keeping an eye on the competition. By doing this, you will be able to learn from the mistakes of your competitors. You will be able to learn what your competition does better than you, and you will be able to predict what features your members will want in the future.
Whilst it is important to always keep an eye on your competition, you shouldn’t follow them too quickly or too closely.
Why following the competition can cause problems
What works for your competition may not work for you
Whilst your competition may have a similar audience to your own, it is unlikely that the demographic will be identical. You should always bear this in mind when considering whether you need to keep up with any new features or changes in direction taken by your competitors.
Your competition may decide to change their forum software from phpBB to vBulletin – your members may be confused and frustrated by such a change, though. Always consider just how similar the audience of your site and your competition really is.
Your members may have different wants and needs
Even if your community is based on the same subject as your competition, there may be differences between the wants and needs of your members. Whilst the members of your competitors may expect a lot of that site’s development to be undertaken by the site administrator, your members may expect to be consulted before any big decisions are made.
Your competitors’ members may be more tech-savvy than your own – therefore a new feature that requires some advanced computer knowledge to use properly may not be a good idea for your site.
Your community needs to be different
If all you do is follow your competitors, your community will offer nothing new. It is essential for your community to be differentiated from the competition. If you follow every new feature and every new direction your competitors take, your site will be boring and stale.
You need to ensure that your site always offers something different – this doesn’t have to be something obvious like using different software; it could be that your community simply has a different personality. Whatever the differentiation factor is, make sure your community has one!
You may have a different development strategy
Your competitors may have different development objectives to your own. They may want to focus on having a beautiful design with cutting edge software, whilst you may want to focus on a small, close-knit community with functionality over a gorgeous design.
You should only ever develop your community based on your own aims and objectives – what works for your competition may not necessarily work for you.
Let your competition influence your decisions, but don’t let your competition dominate your decisions.